Deutsche Presse-Agentur | 25 May 2007
EU and ACP states vow to clinch free trade deals by end-year
Brussels — The European Union and 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states vowed Friday to clinch free-trade deals by end- 2007, defying critics who say the agreements will not help fight poverty.
German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, representing the current German EU presidency, told reporters the so- called ’economic partnership agreements’ would boost ACP exports to Europe and encourage regional integration in Africa.
’It is our common concern to ensure these agreements promote development,’ Wieczorek-Zeul told reporters after talks with ACP ministers.
Lesotho’s Foreign Minister and ACP chairman Mohlabi K. Tsekoa admitted that negotiations on the trade pacts were complex and difficult.
But he insisted that agreement would be reached as scheduled by the end of 2007, allowing the new accords to be implemented as of January 1, 2008.
ACP countries facing the challenges of development and poverty alleviation needed ’reliable partners,’ said Tsekoa.
The new trade agreements would give ACP states better access to EU markets, said Tseoka, adding: ’We have no doubt we will be enhancing the development of our people.’
The EU has promised to remove all quotas and tariffs on ACP farm and industrial goods as part of the new trade pacts.
While ACP states will also slash their trade barriers, they will be given more time to open up their markets to European products.
Wieczorek-Zeul said ACP states would have up to 25 years to make the transition to free trade for some sensitive products.
The trade deals also allow ACP governments to protect sensitive products where the removal of import duties could threaten local producers.
The EU proposal covers agricultural products like beef, dairy, cereals and all fruit and vegetables which are currently subject to EU market restrictions. There will be a phase-in period for free trade in rice and sugar.
Under current EU arrangements, only 40 least developed ACP states have tariff-free and quota-free access to the EU. The new deal extends the favourable regime to all ACP states. South Africa, however, has its own free trade pact with the EU.
The new agreements will replace the current Cotonou Agreement which does not demand market-opening reciprocity from poor nations.
However, the World Trade Organization has ruled that the Cotonou arrangement must be revamped by the end of the year to meet international trade standards.
Aid agencies have, however, warned against a too-hasty opening up of ACP markets to European products, saying this will hurt their farmers and fledgling industries.
Negotiations on the economic partnership agreements are currently under way between the EU and six regional ACP groupings.